Actor Alan Ariano looks back at ‘Miss Saigon’ a generation later

With actor Jonathan Pryce, who played the Engineer, on opening night. Photos courtesy of Alan Ariano

By Cristina DC Pastor 

Was it only yesterday when Alan Ariano found himself at 890 Studios on Broadway where about a dozen VIPS sat at a long table to listen to him audition for “Miss Saigon?” It does seem that way to this FilAm stage actor best remembered for playing a psychic healer in the off-Broadway “Felix Starro.”  

After singing two songs for his audition, he noticed somewhat in a blur five heads come together as if in a huddle. After what seemed like an interminable few minutes, the center person moved to speak. “I can’t remember if it was Cameron or Hytner but I know he had an English accent. He stood up and pleasantly asked, Alan, care to join us on Monday?”

“I don’t know how quick or how long it took me to react but all I know is I literally dropped to my knees, clasped my hand in prayer and gratitude and said, ‘I would love to…thank you, thank you.’”

Alan recounted to The FilAm his final callback as it happened 30 years ago before the now-controversial musical “Miss Saigon” opened on Broadway in April 1991. He does not remember exactly who were at that table, but recalled that producer Cameron Mackintosh, director Nicholas Hytner, and choreographer Bob Avian were among them.

In a cab on the way home, his friend and accompanist Dean Johnson who was still gushing about him being hired on the spot, asked if he was alright.

“I simply responded. ‘I know this is going to change my life. I just want to remember the moment and take it all in,’” he said of that moment. “I don’t remember being nervous. It all seemed like it happened so fast. I probably was nervous. I was calm.”

Thirty years ago, Alan was a 26-year-old actor, who has had two years on stage before “Miss Saigon” formed part of his theatre credits.  He had just moved to New York in 1988 from Los Angeles and had performed for productions, such as “M. Butterfly” and “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” prior.

‘Celebrating 30 with the Men of Saigon,’ writes Alan on Facebook. He is standing second from right wearing green shirt.
‘A special experience in my life.’

“Miss Saigon” made quirky theater history by having a large number of Filipino actors in the production. The Pinoy Crew was led by Lea Salonga — her performance as the Vietnamese bar girl Kim who falls for an American GI earned her a Tony Award — with dozens more actors in lead and support roles. Alan was in the original cast as Ensemble and understudy to smaller roles, such as Club owner and Assistant Commissar.

Bonding over food

“The Filipinos were great,” he said. “We bonded as a culture of Asians who loved to socialize and to eat and to eat socializing.” There, he met Salonga, who was already a celebrity in the Philippines. “I was in awe.”

After the first year, he created a tradition called Asian Food Treat. “Those who wanted to participate would bring a potluck dish. The participants would vote on the best dish and the winner would be able to eat the next time without having to bring food. It was something we all looked forward to for our two show days.”

He brushed aside as “uncalled for” the negative controversy generated by the musical’s message seen by some as “fetishizing” Asian women. Said Alan, “The setting of this love story is the streets and bars of Saigon during the Vietnam war. It is based on historical events. People were desperate and did desperate things. The show was not meant to perpetuate the victimizing of woman.”

Born in the Philippines, Alan – with two older brothers — came to the U.S. at age 5 after his mother was remarried to an American Navy man. “My father was stationed in San Diego, CA where I grew up and attended Chula Vista High School,” he shared. He originally went to San Diego State University as an Architectural Engineering major. He changed majors and graduated from United States International University where he got his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater.

While theater projects are few and far between because of the pandemic, Alan has booked a guesting gig on “FBI: Most Wanted” plus some industrial and print jobs doing Corporate In-house training movies or commercials.

Although he felt grateful and fortunate to be part of a fabled Broadway production – “Miss Saigon” closed after10 years and 4,092 performances – it was the friends and “family” he made that he will long remember.

“I didn’t realize till after we closed how special this experience in my life was.” “Miss Saigon,” he said, was a “coveted job” for some Asian, even non-Asian, actors. “I now equate it to having won the lottery. It was a blessing in achievement of my theatrical goals. But mostly, it was a blessing of the friends and ‘family’ that I will always cherish.”

SALON AGNESIA in Jersey City

© The FilAm 2021

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